Some 20,000 lucky residents of the United Kingdom have signed up to participate in a trial of on-demand television by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).
Speaking Wednesday at the MIPTV-MILIA digital audiovisual trade show in Cannes, Ashley Highfield, the BBC's director of Future Media and Technology, said that the government-supported corporation had a duty to make its vast archives available to anyone able to pay a licensing fee.
Subscription to the BBC trial is limited to those in the United Kingdom (sorry, BBC America fans), who pay a fee, although the Web site is no longer accepting any further sign-ups.
As part of its on-demand test, the BBC is rolling out two different devices: the iPlayer, an online media player that will enable users to download television content via the Web and cable television, and a hybrid set-top box that can connect to the Internet and store content from the BBC.
One of the goals of the BBC on-demand test this summer will be to gauge the demand for older shows in its archive. The corporation reportedly has over a million hours of TV and radio recordings.
The 20,000 lucky participants will not get access to all of the BBC's archives, of course. A limited amount of material -- some 1,000 hours of content -- will be offered to testers, and another 50 hours will be put online for general access. At issue is just how much of its archive the BBC should offer for free and how much should be provided for a fee.
Assuming final approval by the BBC Trust, the media company's governing body, the on-demand trial will start later this year.
In a statement published on the BBC Web site, Highfield said that there would be some changes in television, but predicted that the medium would continue for the foreseeable future.
In 10 years time, he said, perhaps 50 percent of television programming is going to look very similar to how it is today. "And then you've got the other half of the market, ostensibly the younger, who are still going to consume a huge amount of video," he said. "But it's not going to be as you and I know it today. That's going to be this rich mix of user-generated content, interactive content, and archive on-demand consumption."
One thing that Highfield discounts is significant amounts of viewing on small screens.
"I'm slightly skeptical of watching video on very small devices," he said. "It wouldn't surprise me if, in another 10 years, the average size of television screens is over" 40 inches. "It will be a corner-of-the-room, cinematic, surround-sound experience."